Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick

George Cotkin, Author
George Cotkin. Oxford Univ., $18.95 ISBN 978-0-19-985575-9
Hardcover - 313 pages - 978-0-19-985574-2
Hardcover - 302 pages - 978-0-19-985573-5
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In this entertaining companion to Moby-Dick, California Polytechnic State University historian Cotkin addresses the novel chapter by chapter, briefly invoking a chapter’s premise before exploring its subjects, themes, and author, as well as the novel’s life, reception, and legacy. Cotkin’s comprehensive method is attuned to both popular representations and individuals who have heeded the novel’s call to “dive into the mysteries of meaning, into the storms of existence.” There’s the novel’s presence in the art of Red Grooms and Frank Stella, its reverberations in Hart Crane’s poetry and Cormac McCarthy’s novels, as well as its use in Abbott and Costello’s comedy routine, in marketing whale meat, and in Star Trek, where Ahab manifests as Khan, villain (and Melville devotee). Melville’s influence on rapper MC Lars and the novel’s rewriting into Japanese emoticons feel less urgent, but whimsy is balanced with plenty of punches at Ahab’s target, “the pasteboard mask of reality.” Melville’s interest in hieroglyphics is paired with the novel’s passages on the cryptic markings found on whale skin; over such markings, Cotkin writes, “Melville quaked with anxiety because he sensed—from the hieroglyphics of God’s creation—that the meaning of it all was meaningless at best and evil at worst.” Cotkin’s discussion of Melville’s use of the novel to wrestle with theodicy provides additional glimpses of the depths of “America’s novel.” Agent: John F. Thornton, the Spieler Agency. (Aug.)
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